DEAR FAMILY AND FRIENDS,
Have you ever spent Christmas alone?
I’m sure not many of you have. Of all the different holidays, it seems to me that Christmas seems to be the most family oriented. Families make extra efforts to be together during Christmas. Students come home, airports are teeming with people trying to get home for the holidays. Growing up, my family was no different. There was just something special about Christmas. I know it was something more than just presents, the Christmas tree, the snow, the Christmas vacation – I think it had more to do with “family.” Some of my happiest childhood memories are Christmas memories. There were five of us kids and there was always a lot of activity at the Tanakas. Even though we have our differences, we got along surprisingly well and really enjoyed getting together and doing things together. It was almost a given that everyone would make it back for Christmas at the Tanakas.
I’d like to tell you of my first Christmas without my family. I was a third year medical student in Chicago. Hours were terrible, working over 100 hours per week, and trying to study without falling to sleep. If that wasn’t enough my roommate and I had problems with our landlord and so we had no heat. With Chicago’s winters it got below freezing inside. I tried to heat the apartment by burning boxes from a nearby hotel in a Ben Franklin stove. I’d fill the apartment with boxes and spend one hour tearing up boxes and throwing them into the fire. I actually got the apartment to be around the upper 70’s but in a couple hours it would be back cold again. I later gave up and wore my long underwear and jacket at all times. I studied with a light inside my sleeping bag. If that wasn’t bad enough I found rats in my apartment and they got into my rice. My roommate could not stand it and stayed at his girlfriend’s apartment.
I was cold, lonely, over-worked, and I began to question if all this was worth it. Was medicine going to bring me true happiness? One of the loneliest days of my life came that Christmas – 1983. I couldn’t make it home and I had no place to go. I spent it alone. I remember all I had for dinner that day was rice and a can of soup. Loneliness was overwhelming. I thought of all the laughter and fun at home. I tried several times to call home but had to hang up because I got too choked up. I didn’t want any one at home to know what I was going through or to worry about me. What could they do anyway? I so much wanted to be home that year. I missed my family and I love them.
Even though I would never want to go through that experience again, that low point in my life forced me to reflect on my life and where it was going. I felt that I should be happy, everything was going my way – good grades, getting into medical school, and the likelihood of a well-paying job if I could just persevere. Could money, success, friends and family be counted on to make me happy? I felt society had cheated me because I knew deep down that none of these things could fill that emptiness inside of me. I needed and wanted something stable that I could base my life on, to give my life meaning and direction, even if all else fails.
What could that be? In 1984 I found what I had been searching for. I found my hope beyond this world, in the Creator of this world – Jesus Christ. Even though at this time of year we are celebrating His virgin birth, my greatest hope comes from His empty grave. The empty grave proves His deity and His power over death.
I have always believed that there is a god. To me this is evident through the beauty of nature and especially the miracle of a developing baby, knowing that every single detail and feature is somehow encoded on a blueprint of DNA that could fit on the tip of a pin. Not even the smallest microchip can even come close to match that storing capacity in such a tight package.
My mother would agree, all my life I have asked the question – “Why?” Why would such an awesomely powerful God subject Himself to a lowly birth in a stable, an agonizing death on a cross, just to be raised up again? Even Jesus did not want to die and asked God if there was any other way, when He asked to “remove this cup from Me.” The Bible says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” God sets the standards and the rules. There was no other way and Jesus gave His life as penalty for our sins.
Why is the forgiveness of sins so important? Just like Adam, fellowship with God is broken when we sin, because God is a holy God and can’t associate with sin. Does Jesus’ death automatically restore my fellowship with God? How about good works? The Bible says no. How then does one restore fellowship with God and obtain eternal life? The Bible says that there is only one way. God, as back in Adam’s time, respects our free will and He offers us forgiveness and eternal life only if we confess our sins, and accept Jesus’ payment on the cross as the only payment for our sins.
Through reading the Bible I began learning about the most incredible person, Jesus. Could Jesus truly be God as He said He is? My heart broke as I began to know of His great love for me and that He died for me. In the fall of 1984 I made the most significant step in my life and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. I still have struggles with sin but I know my fellowship with God, my Creator. I have security beyond this world that no one can take, burn or destroy, because my name is written in God’s “book of life.” With God at my side I know I’ll be able to have peace through any of life’s painful experiences.
Now something a little lighter – our family. We have just max’d out our Corolla wagon. --- we added our 3rd car seat with the arrival of our precious Stefanie. At birth she weighed in at --- and now at 6 months she’s tipping the scales at nearly 18 pounds. Stefanie definitely is our easiest baby. She rarely cries and always has a huge toothless smile for you. She’s so easy that it makes you want another one – shhh don’t tell Lori. Stefanie’s middle name is --- which means “true beauty.” That is what we want her to develop in her life – inner qualities and character of a godly woman.
Next is our bruiser, Jonathan. He is husky but he really is such a “softy.” He is a little timid until he gets to know you then he loves to give you bear hugs or grab onto your leg. He is a man of few words, yet he sure has that “no” down pat. We call him our “light meter” because without fail he’ll yell out, “Dark!” every time we drive under an underpass. Being so quiet in the back seat you’d think he’s just sitting there, but he is taking in everything.
To get around saying hard names for him like “Stefanie” and “Amy,” Jonathan decided to make up his own names for them. Stefanie he calls her “NehNeh.” Lori thinks that’s because when Amy asks, “Where’s Stefanie?” Lori often says, “Stefanie is NehNeh.” Jonathan calls Amy, “WaWa.” Where did het get this name you may ask? Well, our theory is Jonathan often did not like it when Amy took something from him so he’d yell as loud as he could, “WaWa.” I’m glad Jonathan still calls us “Dadda” and “Momma.” I’d be afraid of what name he’d think up for us.
Jonathan loves to dance. In fact when we’re shopping if he hears some music he automatically stops whatever he’s doing and claps his hands and does a little jig for you.
Amy is our oldest at 3 ½. She has turned into Jonathan’s second Mom, telling him what he should and should not do. Poor Jonathan. She is our talker. I often wonder how she thinks of so many things to talk about. Silence is a luxury that we only enjoy when the children are napping or sleeping. Amy is an eager learner and loves homeschool. She is learning about creation through the study of Genesis and is fascinated about God’s wonderful creation. We are all learning a lot and having fun at it. Did you know that a platypus is an unusual mammal because it lays eggs?
My wife, Lori, has also made the decision to follow Jesus. God has been tugging at Lori’s heart to begin a neighborhood Bible study. This fall she obeyed and invited 18 women. There is no disappointment as God is working in the lives of three women as they study the Bible together.
Lori is a great mother and teacher as she is teaching Amy and Jonathan about creation. I don’t know how she does all the things she does. Having three children in three years is no easy feat.
Lori and I have been married six years. There have been many joyful times and also many struggles. Our marriage has weathered through all the struggles and disappointments at work, and through the pressures of raising three little children. I believe it is our commitment to God and our lifetime commitment to each other that has carried us through. Lori is my best friend, who I am able to share my joys, my hurts and my weaknesses with. I love her and she is such a joy and blessing in my life.
My life has been a blur. Last year I thanked you that God had answered your prayers and my office was fully staffed with physicians. Well that didn’t last long. This past year two physicians resigned, but now we have three new doctors. I am looking forward to this year as it could only go up from here. I am also serving on the board of directors of a crisis pregnancy center. This has really opened my eyes to the great needs out there to offer love, support and alternatives to abortion to mothers with unplanned pregnancies. They also provide post-abortion counseling, are active in local high schools with a successful abstinence program, and offer free pregnancy testing just to name a few of their services. Last thing: I have just started meeting with a fairly new believer in Jesus to train him up to be a mature follower of Jesus. I think I am learning just as much as he is and we are building our friendship.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. You are special to us. We hope that as you spend those precious moments with your family and friends and exchange gifts that you not forget the greatest gift given some 2000 years ago. No, it was not from the Magi, but from God when He gave His only Son. That’s really what Christmas is all about.
RICH (FOR LORI, AMY, JONATHAN, AND STEFANIE)
HAVE YOU EVER SPENT CHRISTMAS ALONE?
I WAS COLD, LONELY, OVER-WORKED, AND I BEGAN TO QUESTION IF ALL THIS WAS WORTH IT
THAT LOW POINT IN MY LIFE FORCED ME TO REFLECT ON MY LIFE
I FOUND WHAT I HAD BEEN SEARCHING FOR
I HAVE SECURITY BEYOND THIS WORLD THAT NO ONE CAN TAKE, BURN, OR DESTROY
JONATHAN LOVES TO DANCE
SILENCE IS A LUXURY
LORI IS MY BEST FRIEND, WHO I AM ABLE TO SHARE MY JOYS, MY HURTS, AND MY WEAKNESSES WITH
THAT'S REALLY WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT